Cornwall: A walk around Mousehole in winter
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A picturesque Cornish coastal village, Mousehole is steeped in centuries of fishing history. It even has its own legend – the Mousehole cat.
However, members of its tight-knit community warn that all isn’t exactly rosy in Mousehole as the harbour is now landing more holidaymakers than mackerel.
There are some other new concerns too, reports Cornwall Live. These include the growing traffic in the village, particularly at the height of summer, and last year’s closure of the village’s only shop and post office. While you can buy some lovely deli food, gifts and paintings by Cornwall’s most revered artists, residents now have to travel to Newlyn or further still for the most basic of household staples.
And that very special Wesleyan chapel? Closed after the pandemic for health and safety reasons due to woodworm and dry rot.
It’s certainly not all doom and gloom though. There’s a hardcore of people ensuring community is everything, often centred around the hub that is the Solomon Browne Hall and out-of-season tourism is booming.
On a weeknight in late January, the renowned Old Coastguard restaurant was packed and the delis and harbourside bistro were all doing a roaring trade. It appears the long-held wish by Cornwall’s tourism leaders to spread the holiday love beyond summer and school breaks is starting to pay off. Businesses in Mousehole reported more people visiting in January, particularly older couples enjoying walking and dining breaks.
One look at that stunning harbourfront and it’s easy to see how much Cornwall has changed in recent times – the village shop and post office closed last year to make way for Just Lily gift shop, while neighbouring Mousehole Deli & Kitchen and No 2 Fore Street have introduced stylish dining to the harbour.
It’s not to say they’re just catering for the Pornwall brigade. Terri and Caleb Munday, who run the deli and its upstairs restaurant, have had great local support for their special dining events, including Burns Night and a recent Greek experience (with Valentine’s Day and a French menu to come) – 90 per cent of the diners are residents.
“It seems like more people are moving to the village, which is nice,” said Terri, who says there are definitely more younger families in Mousehole now, which is creating a new dynamic. She has just starred as Jack in the local Porthenys Players’ Jack and the Giant on the Mount at neighbouring village Paul’s village hall. Panto is alive and well in Mousehole, even if it had to be staged elsewhere this year because of the problems at the methodist church.
The deli is a perfect example of people helping others out in a tiny community – since the pandemic eased, it is still sending food to some of Mousehole’s elderly residents who struggle to leave their homes. It even put the oven on for some of the locals and help them heat their dinner.
Like everyone in the village, the couple have an opinion on traffic and parking issues (they would favour a one-way system rather than full pedestrianisation, but if the latter is agreed they feel there should be permits for residents). The narrow road through the harbour may be manageable in January, but in the heaving summer months, it’s a nightmare. What was made for a horse and cart can’t really cope with an invasion of Chelsea tractors.
The councillor for the area, Thalia Marrington, is behind a feasibility study to make Mousehole less busy when it comes to traffic. It is looking at the possibility of altering the flow of vehicles and even pedestrianisation. She feels the village would be playing its part in Cornwall Council’s bid for the Duchy to be carbon neutral by 2030.
Thalia said: “One of the things I was elected on was the traffic and parking issue – sometimes you have to be a bit radical. Penzance businesses were a bit nervous when the town centre was pedestrianised, but it’s worked. If you say ‘pedestrianisation’ it splits opinion, but it’s a feasibility study at this stage. We’ll come back to the village with any decisions.”
The councillor says that she has faced some quite heated opposition on the issue, which was discussed at a packed meeting in the Solomon Browne Hall last month. It’s fair to say the harbour office is against any changes to traffic coming through Mousehole. With dwindling use as a working harbour, a major part of its income is from its two pay and display car parks.
Deputy harbourmaster Bill Johnson said: “Mousehole is no longer a working harbour, it’s a resort. Pedestrianisation will never work. We have one of the best bus services in the county, which could be affected. People who stay in holiday lets often bring two cars with them – how will they get to where they’re staying?
“With the village shop now closed, people have to use their cars to get provisions. To ask them not to use their cars is impossible.”
His colleague, harbourmaster Royden Paynter, agrees: “People ain’t prepared to go the four-mile trip around Mousehole. Income from parking runs the harbour. I do know it’s a nightmare in the summer though.”
Royden was born in the village 73 years ago and knows better than most how much Mousehole, which has around 600 residents, has changed. A change that was reflected in Mark Jenkin’s BAFTA-winning film sensation, Bait, which was filmed in the village.
“I wouldn’t be surprised to find that 80 per cent of the properties here are second homes and holiday lets,” said the harbourmaster. Despite others saying Mousehole has a healthy mix of all ages, Royden adds that “it’s become a retirement and holiday place really.
“Some of the houses are a ridiculous price to stay in. There’s one place that’s basically two garden sheds, which is £4,000 a week. The local shop and post office went last year. There are plenty of delis, cafes and galleries, but nothing much for the locals really. You have to travel somewhere else if you even want a paper.
“It will never go back to what it was before – it’s not going to be quiet anymore. Mousehole is one of the busiest places to visit in Cornwall now, but it still has a sense of community.”
Despite Royden’s comments about it being a retirement village, there is new young blood. The people behind popular west Cornwall vegan food van Vood are opening a cafe in Mousehole in March, which Flick White is looking forward to.
he moved back to Mousehole when she was 26 and works in the rather excellent Tyler Gallery (works by Frosts – Terry and Anthony – Steve Slimm, Michael Praed et al) and runs her own sustainable and eco-friendly swimwear business, Flickini.
She loves Mousehole but has mixed feelings about its economic life: “The village shop and post office has gone, Janners fish and chip shop has gone and is now a house. We don’t need another gift shop. You can go to a deli and spend quite a lot, but I worry there isn’t anywhere where villagers can buy everyday shopping, especially now times are difficult.
“I moved back here because it’s calm and safe and has a great community. The Solomon Browne Hall is really good – there are crafts fairs and the pasty and pint shows recently were very good. We could do with more people in their 20s starting businesses like the new vegan cafe.
“I’ve got friends who cannot find a home to live in yet there are homes here that are only being visited three times a year, if that.”
The Solomon Browne Hall is testament that community is king even in a village that’s now become a tourism mecca. It hosts regular events, markets, workshops and classes. There’s a community garden, playgroup and forest school, summer school and local children traditionally celebrate their birthdays with rollicking parties in the hall.
It’s managed by Sarah De’Lacy and Tamsin Harvey, who can trace her family in Mousehole back to the time of the Spanish Armada but, again, like in so many Cornish villagers, can’t afford to live there herself now. Sarah added that second homes is always a hot topic: “A lot of the properties are only visited twice a year, when they could be home to people contributing to life in the village.”
They agree that the whole traffic issue has become another big talking point. “A lot of people want to see fewer cars, and there’s also a massive issue with parking. It really has split opinion.”
Sarah said: “There’s a misconception that people don’t like to come to Mousehole because there’s no parking, but there’s a great bus service every 25 minutes and people are making more use of the new e-bikes scheme – we’re really pushing that with people coming in for events. The whole traffic issue is in the really early stages and anything that’s done will have to be agreed by the entire village.”
It may have its issues like every Cornish coastal community in the difficult days of 2023, but Mousehole will always thrive as a beautiful and unique place to visit, whether it’s to see the 18th century home of Cornish speaker Dolly Pentreath, the intriguing triangular treasure trove of a shop that is The Ark, enjoy a pint in the Ship or to get artisaned up at one of the delis. Just drive carefully, for God’s sake.
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